Real Careers: Lisa Olsen

Exceptional EA is pleased to launch Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to  Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa , the UK and USA, and now make our way to California to visit with Lisa Olsen.

Lisa Olsen is co-owner of Admin to Admin, an international speaker and trainer, and Executive Assistant to the CEO at Sacramento Area Council of Governments. Here’s a look at her world.

A Running Start to the Day

I am up at 5:30. I try and get out and run in the morning – but sometimes the alarm fairy hits snooze too many times! I say my prayers, listen to NPR (National Public Radio), shower and eat my yogurt w/granola or a two egg omelet.

I take a shuttle in to downtown Sacramento. Very convenient. My company pays the cost. I catch it at 7:25 and I’m in the office by 7:55, depending on traffic. What two or three musicians/composers are on your playlist for your commute? I read on my commute, or check the NY Times and Flipboard or listen to a podcast.

At the Office

Morning Routines: I first greet my admin team and then check for any emails from my executive. I review the calendars and check to be sure I have all the meeting back up materials ready.

Primary Responsibilities: In my executive assistant role I am responsible for managing a complex calendar, researching and prepping for committee and Board meetings, project management and leading a team of five administrative assistants. As the Clerk of the Board, I work with 33 elected officials who represent our 22-city region. I clerk the monthly Board meetings and coordinate events and logistics. As a co-owner of Admin to Admin, I develop and facilitate one day educational and professional development events for assistants and provide keynotes and workshops at administrative conferences.

What does a typical day, if there is such a thing, look like? I begin by greeting my admin team and check in with them. I prepare my executive’s office, making sure all information he needs for the day is ready. I coordinate the CEO’s extensive travel and manage the administrative work flow. I am currently leading a process redesign project so I usually have at least one or two meetings a day to review schedules, action items and updates. I work closely with management on strategic issues and am constantly checking the pulse of our Board members. I find time to get up to speed on legislative issues affecting regional transportation and urban issues.

How long is your work day?  I usually arrive by 8:00 and work until 5:30 or 6:00. On committee or Board meeting days, I am in the office by 7:00 a.m. Then I go home and answer my Admin to Admin emails, and work on any proposals or workshop handouts I need to get ready for an upcoming conference or presentation. IMG_9639

What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? I enjoy bringing my lunch, eating across the street in the beautiful Capitol Park on the grounds of the CA (California) State Capitol. Once or twice a week I’ll join co-workers for a nice lunch at one of our many great farm-to-fork restaurants.

Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I work from home but – if I am – I’m usually wearing my speaker/trainer hat!

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Most challenging is last minute upsets to calendars that require rescheduling meetings with elected officials.

Maintain your credibility and a professional attitude

What do you most enjoy about your career? I really enjoy everything about being an assistant. It’s a relevant, valuable and complex position that I take very seriously. I have had the opportunity to run major projects, be a liaison for executives, manage and lead others, be an ambassador for the companies I work for and also share my passion as a speaker and trainer helping other assistants reach their potential.

On Saying “No”

I am not known to say “no,” but I don’t get allow people to drop things in my lap either. Instead, I ask questions to get clarity on the priority and then respond accordingly. I keep people updated on the status of their requests.

Lisa’s World

Map of worldI was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Bethesda, Maryland (MD) until I went to college in Utah. We raised our family in Redding, California (CA). Now I live in Sacramento, CA.  At heart, are you a city gal or small community person? Depends on the city! I love the feel of small communities, however, I also enjoy the diversity, culture and shopping available in bigger cities!

I enjoy quilting, reading, running, visiting my sweet grandkids and working on new projects for Admin to Admin.

What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? Journey, James Taylor, or anything Motown!! The theme from Annie might be on list if it’s a particularly tough day! The sun will come out, tomorrow …

How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Good movie that requires lots of Kleenex. FaceTime or Skype with my grandkids. Hours in my sewing room working on a new quilt. Dinner with friends.

A dream holiday or travel adventure? I would love to go Ireland and see where my mother was born. I would also like to go back to the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, which I visited several times when I was as teenager. I would also like to take a train ride through the Canadian Rockies!

Value yourself and your role; invest in continuing education

Education and Professional Development

Education: I am an advocate for continuing education, both personally and professionally. I have attended many conferences as an attendee and now as a speaker and workshop facilitator for assistants, I work diligently to present on relevant topics that I’ve lived!

My goal is to never get complacent about my career. I try to “know what I don’t know”. This has helped me throughout my career. I read lots of books, blogs and articles and share them with my team or on social media. I completed the World Class Assistant and Star Achievement programs offered by Office Dynamics – and for the past eight years I’ve been a certified trainer for them as well.

Look for stretch opportunities, and take the initiative

Peer and Professional Associations: I have belonged to the American Society of Training and Development and the National Speakers Association. I am a member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals  (IAAP) and have presented at their conference, and am a member and the National Association of Professional Women. They help me to stay in touch with trends and issues affecting the profession and have provided me opportunities to share my strengths as a speaker and trainer as well.

Awards and Recognition

At the healthcare company I worked as the EA to the CEO, and we had a recognition program called People First and chose one employee and one team every year for the award. Peers submitted recognition on ways employees stand out or provide exceptional service throughout the year, and I was responsible for collecting them and providing the information to the management team for the selection process. One year, without letting me know, colleagues selected me for the People First Award and was surprised at the company holiday party with the award. People had been sending their forms directly to the CEO without me knowing it! It was extremely humbling and unexpected.

Technology: Reality and Wish List

imagePreferred form(s) of social media? Linked In, Twitter, PATH (for family) are probably the most used.

Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? An app that would tell me which restaurants in different places I travel have styrofoam cups and rabbit ice for sodas!!!! There are so many software programs and apps out there already – I know I have barely skimmed the surface!

Style and Substance

Toronto Style Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhat is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? A grey Ann Taylor suit with a “what’s it” (brooch, pin, etc.) on my lapel. Also, black slacks and my favorite Nordstrom white fitted shirt with a spark of color (scarf, jacket).

What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Clinique lip gloss in rasperry. Hand lotion. When I travel I never go anywhere without my Excedrin (Is that a cosmetic??)! Also, my Boots No.7 Cleanser and night cream. Love that stuff.

Heels or flats?  Depends on the outfit – but I rarely wear heels higher than three inches at work. Your favourite brand of shoes? Franco Sarto

Preferred scent: I don’t normally wear it at work, but I love a little sprinkle of baby powder!

What might we find in your desk drawer? Healthy snacks, post-its, colored flags, Sharpie Fine Point black pens, band-aids, and plastic spoons (we are always out!). I also keep a good supply of Peanut M&Ms on hand.

Do you have any advice on travel planning, be it business or personal travel? When my executive travels I also call ahead to the office or location where he will be meeting and find out building specifics, etc. This is especially important when he travel to DC because there is so much security. He uses public transit wherever he goes, so I stay up to speed on the routes, time schedules and public transit options. We use a state travel program which is great – however, I still prepare a detailed itinerary for my executive. I also include my business cards in his travel portfolio so if meetings need to happen when he gets back, he can hand the contacts my card for scheduling. I also have Travel Profiles on any of the management team that might be traveling with him so I have easy access to their information.

Provide your travelling executive your business cards for new contacts

Inspirational reads? So many – but Crucial Conversations, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, John Maxwell (any book!), How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I just finished The One Thing by Gary Kellar and Jay Papasan.

There are so many great blogs, resources and books for the admin career I could never list them all but for productivity, I go to Laura Stack, for admin career info I go to Julie Perrine, Joan Burge and periodicals like Executive Secretary published by Lucy Brazier, Office Pro Magazine, Admin Advantage and Success Magazine are always within reach. I enjoy A Great Day’s Work blog and Chrissy Scivicque’s blog at

Work hard and be nice; treat everyone with respect

Role models or mentors? So many people! I think if I were to choose one, it would be my mother. She was the EA to the Ambassador at the Embassy of Iraq in the 70s. I spent summers working there and observed her grace, poise, confidence and ability to maintain composure in any situation. She also treated everyone with respect. People gravitated to her. I have kept those lessons close to my heart throughout my life.

Please briefly describe one or two career accomplishments of which you’re particularly proud. I acted as the interim Human Resource Director for a year while they recruited for a permanent position. This was exciting and challenging! I am also very grateful and proud of seeing my dream come to reality as Admin to Admin has evolved. I work with two incredible partners and executive assistants, Linda McFarland and Stacy Leitner. It’s been an exciting journey!

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar in the next five years?  Continue to learn, grow and develop my strengths. I hope to continue to share my passion for the career by speaking at conferences and workshops. I taught at the junior college level for four years – and I would love the opportunity to do that again if the planets align right!

Lessons Learned

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Making mistakes is okay. Own them, learn from them. If you are a working mom, never compare yourself to another working mom’s situation. Work hard and be nice to people – it’s been the best piece of advice I ever received and has opened more doors than any other skill I have.

What advice might you offer a new mother returning to the workplace? Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s okay to cry. You don’t have to take home-made cupcakes to the school bake sale! Nothing is more important than your children and what you do as a mother – prioritize accordingly and don’t apologize for it. Never send your kids to school crying because you’ve lost it in the morning. Send them to school with a smile and a hug.

What is your most effective time management strategy? Time is a resource and a gift – manage yourself.

It’s all right to make mistakes if you own and learn from them

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Take time to get to know her/his strengths; be willing to be inclusive and never underestimate what a good assistant can do. Recognize the value of regular check-ins and always take time to introduce your assistant to others. Be an example to others of how to respect the boss/admin partnership. Recognize the value of professional development and ask about conferences and training.

For those interested in promotion: Value yourself enough to be committed to your role – no matter what capacity or level. Look for stretch opportunities and take appropriate initiative. Always have a professional attitude and carry yourself well. Maintain your credibility at all costs. Don’t get caught up in office gossip, and never speak negatively about your boss. Read. Find a mentor or coach. Practice being the assistant you aspire to be!


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Lisa referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by our readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page.



One Comment on “Real Careers: Lisa Olsen

  1. Pingback: Meet Lisa: Insights from California | Exceptional EA

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